Bone Marrow Registry Drive gives students a chance to save a life

By on March 26, 2013
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Senior Victoria Vigilanti isn’t just a goaltender for the Quinnipiac women’s ice hockey team. She is also a candidate to donate her matched bone marrow. Her team had originally participated in the bone marrow drive at Quinnipiac in support of a player from Yale University named Mandi Schwartz, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia her junior year. When Vigilanti was given the chance to save a life, she quickly accepted it.

Savanna Quevedo| The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Athletic Center filled with interested bone marrow donors last Wednesday for the annual Bone Marrow Registry Drive, organized by the field hockey team and the sorority Kappa Alpha Theta. There were 66 new donors added to the registry, creating hope for patients in need of a transplant.

Senior Anna McCarthy of Kappa Alpha Theta took on the drive for her last year in honor of her mother’s best friend whom she is named after.

“In our eyes the process may be painful, but in the end, you could be actually saving someone’s life,” McCarthy said.

The event organizers worked with Rhode Island Blood Center’s Be The Match, an organization that finds willing donors and matches them with patients. The people in need have life threatening blood cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma or sickle cell anemia.

The process is relatively simple. After filling out basic information and giving a painless cheek swab, you’re free to go. If you are found to be a match, then you are notified. As a possible donor you go through more tests to be sure you are as close a match to the patient as possible so he or she is not put at risk.

Be The Match has worked with Quinnipiac University for the past five years, according to Drive Coordinator Eric St. Peter of the Rhode Island Blood Center.

“Many of those patients need a bone marrow transplant to survive; chemotherapy doesn’t always work,” St. Peter said. “With a lot of very aggressive cancers chemo is not an option.”

According to St. Peter, there are many wrong impressions associated with the process of donating bone marrow which can make it harder to find volunteers. He says once people get past the idea that donating is very painful, it is easier for them to decide to register.

“The biggest misconception is that it’s a very painful process, and that’s not true,” he said. “Most of the time when you donate marrow it’s a lot like giving blood. They give you a drug that helps create new stem cells in your blood and then we take them out like you would platelets.”

The age restriction for people signing up at a drive is 18 to 44, making colleges and universities a good place for finding volunteers. Everyone is encouraged to register, especially those of ethnic backgrounds. A person is much more likely to match someone who is of the same ethnicity.

“The registry is about 73 percent caucasian now and the next group that’s represented highly is hispanic but it’s only around 10 percent and it goes down from there,” St. Peter said. “If you’re caucasian, you have about 93 percent chance of matching somebody. If you’re hispanic, it’s about 50/50.”

If you were unable to make it to the drive, you can still be put into the Be The Match registry. Sign up at RIBC.org/bethematch and a testing kit will be sent to you at no charge. By doing something as simple as filling out paperwork and a cheek swab you may be giving someone a chance at life that they didn’t have before.

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